Cyber won three awards in the Twilight Science-Fantasy Contest 2014 for 1st Place Public Vote, 1st Place Judges Vote, and Host's Choice. I'm shocked, because there was some serious competition, but I am ever so grateful!
Disclaimer: Cyborgs don't own Twilight. Neither do Cypherians.
Most people died in the atomic explosion of Spacedock 729.
It was one of those tragedies – the ones that start with an ambitious scientist who has a golden vision and end with fire, death, and chaos. So much chaos and loss. Of the 564 people on Spacedock 729, only twenty survived the initial explosion, and of that small fraction, only one survived the cold, unforgiving vacuum of space.
In the end, it came down to genetics. One gene for pale skin, one gene for dark hair, and one especially rare, abnormal gene that popped up in human evolution sometime in the 33rd century – a gene of adaptation that made it possible for the last survivor of Spacedock 729 to live without oxygen for the three hours it took the rescue team to find her. The doctors that worked tirelessly on her infant body eventually surmised that, had her parents not been so close to the origin of the explosion, at least one of them, the carrier of the recessive, reclusive mutant gene, would have survived.
As it was, Bela's mother was the ambitious scientist with the golden vision, and Bela's father was the head researcher of the project. It was virtually impossible for them to avoid the accident. In many ways, their deaths were inevitable.
Bela thought most things were inevitable.
That might just be her programming.
As one of the few infants with this scientifically desirable gene, Bela had been subjected to various experimental medical procedures designed to enhance the capabilities of human function. It wasn't as if it was an odd thing to have happened to her; children who were not orphans were also donated to the cause and, really, ever since the gene had mutated, experimentation had been happening. Over five hundred years and nearly seventy children with the adaptation gene had been hand-delivered to eager scientists. It was all very normal. It was all for the sake of human evolution.
It was also how cyborgs were developed.
That's what Bela was – a cyborg. Incredibly rare, efficient, duly gifted. She had a purpose, a reason for living beyond basic existence despite being sixteen - a little chip in her head, an eye that wasn't quite an eye, veins that were more like computer wires, and a cyber core processor that mirrored her heart and kept her running like a fine-tuned machine. True, Bela was just as mechanic as organic, but she had her humanity, too. She wasn't a robot or those pathetically annoying androids. She was cyborg, the best of both worlds.
Which, of course, was why she didn't understand how anyone could hate the Cypherians for being aliens – it's not like they could help what they were any more than Bela could help being cyborg. She wasn't born with cybernetic wiring, but that didn't change the fact that she couldn't not be a cyborg. It was in her genes, now, after the mutation adapted to her mechanic additions. How were Cypherians, with their iridescent eyes, skin markings, and lithe bodies any different?
"You're too sympathetic," Jasper says when she expresses this opinion, wrench-tipped finger adjusting the transformative gun cased inside his forearm.
"I don't think I am," Bela argues. "Everyone is malfunctioning over nothing."
Jasper snorts. "The situation is almost nuclear. They're sending a group of alien green-bloods to a Spacedock with some humans and only a few cyborgs to mediate. This is asking for a meltdown."
He may have had a point, but Bela wasn't interested in supporting the growth of Jasper's male ego – he didn't have to know he was right, certainly not about how people thought of the convention on Spacedock 9042, and especially because they were three minutes away from docking at the space station. Actually, two minutes and thirty-one-point-four seconds; Bela was quick to inform her fellow cyborg of the time, watching with fascination as his artificial arm snapped together with faint clicks.
"I have faith," she says to him as their shuttle quakes as it connects to the Spacedock, the frame of the spacecraft trembling upon impact.
"Your wires are crossed."
"Maybe. But hope isn't ever a bad thing."
Jasper rolls his eyes, dismissing Bela's disposition – not that she expected anything less from a military-grade cyborg. Just like it was in her programming to think on creative levels, it was in Jasper's programming to be a stubborn ass.
Bela, Jasper, and three other cyborgs stand as the air-compression hisses, charcoal doors sliding open, revealing Carlisle, who served as part father figure, part mediation-lead, and part cyborg-pioneering-expert-scientist. He was unremarkable by human standards, with blond hair and blue eyes that had been salvaged through genetic modification, and a kind face. Bela, for all that she could think freely given her programming, had always enjoyed Carlisle on a basic level – he was brilliant in many ways and she was well aware she placed him on a high pedestal. As it was, she was especially eager that she had been chosen for the convention – this would be her chance to prove that Carlisle's investment in her programming were not a waste.
She wouldn't let him down.
"Alright, stand-down," he says as he moves through the narrow aisle between the seats of the shuttle. "We've arrived, as I'm sure you've all realized. Is everyone sufficiently charged?"
Bela checks her own battery levels, which had an enhanced capacity to keep up with the specifics of her cybernetic additions, satisfied that she would be able to operate for at least thirty-two hours without fail; the other cyborgs, predictably, answer in the affirmative.
Carlisle shuffles back down the narrow aisle. "Allow me to reiterate that we are here for mediation only. Do your jobs quietly and efficiently, keep to yourselves, and report any caustic behavior between humans and Cypherians," he says as he leads them through the tunnel connecting to the Spacedock. Bela listened with half an ear, confident that her memory processors would record Carlisle's directions should she need any refreshers – she was much too occupied with the novelty of the Spacedock floating in the middle of the asteroid belt to pay attention to her creator.
The Spacedock was like nothing she had ever seen before, grander than any antiquated architectural masterpiece in Earth's history. Powerful. Intimidating in its mass but sleek and utilitarian in design, illuminated by faintly blue lights embedded in the walls and floors, and covered by a sturdy translucent dome that afforded the Spacedock the opportunity to grow both Earth and Cypheria native vegetation. She knew from the information that was downloaded into her databases that the gravity of the Spacedock was caught between the light pulls of Earth gravity and the oppressive gravity of Cypheria – she also knew that the Spacedock had been altered to compromise air quality in personal quarters, as well as food offered to the guests of the convention. To Bela, who had been confined to a laboratory for her entire life, the Spacedock was nothing short of majestic. She never wanted to leave.
Her attention is tugged back to Carlisle when he begins separating the cyborgs to different sectors of the Spacedock – Jasper and Peter, the military-guard cyborgs, were sent on patrols, and Kate and Garrett, cyborgs designed for sexual purposes, were directed toward the sector where various dignitaries were gathered until their services were required. And Bela, inevitably, was dismissed to settle into the security panels, where she would be able to plug in and assist the Spacedock system in assessing potential threats.
The truth – perplexing and beyond Bela's comprehension of the nurturing nature of intelligent life – was that the Xenospecies Interplanetary Symposium was under a great amount of threat from both humans and Cypherian radical groups. Each species seemed to have a group of paranoid rebels who did not want to see peaceful life between humans and Cypherians – the human radicals didn't want to share their planet, and the Cypherian radicals were sure they were more worthy of the planet than the humans.
Bela, despite her complex wiring and the speed at which her cybernetic synapses fired, could not understand why living in harmony on a bountiful planet would be disagreeable to either species. Never mind that Bela had never been to Earth or met a Cypherian. She liked the theoretic ideas of peace and wanted all the people who surrounded her to like those ideas, too.
This idealism was probably a glitch in her programming.
A shame, really, as Bela was quite fond of her day-dreaminess.
The security personal, mostly consisting of humans, was heavily spread throughout the sectors of the Spacedock, each strapping male outfitted with the latest quality of protective suiting and non-lethal weaponry. Bela's processors surmised that there were likely five guests of the conference for every one guard, excluding Jasper and Peter. She didn't particularly like those numbers. Surely, the hosts of the conference were overcompensating, even with the threats of radicals.
Still, Bela dutifully slipped into the security panels located in the lowest level of the Spacedock and plugged into the system, silver-blue cords and neon green wires bursting from her fingertips to connect with the network. There was a jolt of familiar energy as she plugged in, information roaring through her mind in a series of convoluted codes and algorithms - a sharp zing of electricity that scared her organic nerves and thrilled her mechanics. Bela could feel her body thrumming with excess energy that filtered cleanly back into the network as fine fuchsia cords wrapped around the more delicate pieces of machinery in the panel's motherboard.
Everything she could see.
The optic processors in her eyes projected image laid over image, every security camera capturing video and images, right before her eyes, in her mind, every second. And it was everything, truly – it had to be with as much information Bela was processing.
There was so much to sift through, so many patterns to follow, so many decisions of what was considered a threat by the algorithm codes and what she considered a threat, so many flags to send out for the security guards to check on. Bela's mind and processors were pulled in a hundred different directions; one lead ended as another began, while another still waited in limbo, and another was dismissed.
It was easy to forget that Bela was isolated on the lowest level, the nearest intelligent beings several feet above her. Essentially, she was sequestered to the basement, monitoring the movements and key logs of every person to pass through the Spacedock.
It was even easier to forget time, forget that her body did need food, forget that she could feel fatigue from being plugged in for too long – and the system was so much bigger, so much more complex, than she was used to. It was difficult work. For the first time, Bela could actually feel her core processors, the most powerful Carlisle had ever designed, heating with the amount of work she was doing.
That was why she began to pull away from system – because of the warmth below her right breast, gleaming metal beneath synthetic fabric hot to the touch, slowly scorching the skin around the metal until it was a bright, angry red. It hurt on a basic level and though Bela could mechanically filter the pain receptors out, she still didn't like knowing that her body was hurting. And as she began to disconnect from the torrent of information, she began to realize that her body, if not her mind, was exhausted.
But then, right as the green wires begin to cinch up, an image passes over Bela's optic receptors and she stops, instantly transfixed.
Exquisite wasn't quite the right word, but it was the only one that Bela's extensive vocabulary kept circling around.
Cypherian, definitely, and rather tall, looming easily over the other people around him, but with a relaxed sort of ease that spoke of knowing exactly how lethal his body was. He had the typically chiseled face of a Cypherian, with a strong, square jaw and a sharp nose, skin as pale as the surface of a moon, but smooth and layered with luminescent markings in bold patterns. It was a shame that all of the images transmitted to Bela's optic receptors were in stark grayscale; she had the notion that he would be exceptionally colorful, as all Cypherians were.
It was especially a shame that Bela would never get a chance to meet him.
As a cyborg, it was a matter of a simple thought to push her desires away – she had a job to do, an explicit order to protect the conference and the guests, and nothing should get in the way of that.
Still, it was notably more difficult than it should have been to disengage from the security panel, the image of him fading as her cybernetic network neutralized once more.
Bela takes the service lift to the floor on which she knew she and the other cyborgs were being kept while not in use. While the Spacedock was large, it was also very new; the only sectors that were completed were those on which guests would be expected to use, meaning that those who were working at the convention, like the cyborgs, were placed in half-finished, barely-livable spaces. The levels in Sector 7 were in disarray and disrepair, messy and grease-stained and with a peculiar metallic-burnt scent to the air. Bela didn't mind. For the first time in a very, very long time, she was tired in the human way.
Carlisle is seated on a lopsided square couch, plain face illuminated by the thin slate tablet held in his hands. She knew him well enough to guess that he was assessing schematics of new experimental procedures for one of the cyborgs in his charge. "Anything important?" she asks, leaning her hip against the high arm of the couch.
Carlisle nods, glancing up at her with a frown. "An upgrade, actually. You look terrible. Need a charge?"
Bela smiles eagerly. "That would be colossally helpful."
He tilts his head to a familiar collection of nondescript cases. "Find yours. May as well set out Kate's, too. She's due to come back any minute."
Dutifully, Bela follows Carlisle's directions, easily locating her own charger and Kate's, setting them up against the far wall near what Bela had to assume was the washroom. It isn't until she is fully plugged in, exposed circuits of her palm pressed and clicked into the prongs of her charger, that she thinks to ask Carlisle another question. "Who is the upgrade for?"
"The upgrade," she prompts, inclining her chin toward the tablet Carlisle is continuously studying. "Who?"
"Yours, actually," he reveals.
Carlisle's smile is very boyish. Very pleased. Excited. "Global upgrade."
Bela sits up much straighter than before. "Are you kidding?"
"Not for a second," he promises. "You have a better core processor, motherboard, power supply, RAM, graphics processor – every thing – in your near future."
Bela is, understandably, speechless. Thrilled – but still speechless. Global upgrades were incredibly rare. She must have done something right to earn it. Once she regains access to her vocal module, she leans forward, chin in hand. "And when do I get this new tech?"
Carlisle glances up from his tablet again. "As soon as we get back to our own Spacedock. First thing. The Director has already approved it."
"Steller," she murmurs, mind already drawn to imagining how much better her mechanics will function after the upgrade. She was giddy about it, and remained so until Kate, looking slightly worn-down, walks into the room. "Your charger is here," she tells Kate immediately. "Are you okay?"
Kate doesn't answer until she is already plugged in, sighing with relief. "Oh, I'm fine. Those senators have interesting…tastes."
Carlisle snorts, but doesn't comment.
Bela, however, is immensely curious. Unlike Kate, who had various mechanical additions designed for sexual pleasure and emotional availability, Bela was virginal and nearly clueless about sex. Any other day, her curiosity would not have been peaked – but her image processors flip to the short-term storage of him, and Bela finds that she has to know anything Kate can tell her.
"Kate," Bela says, nudging Kate's elbow with her own. "What is sex like?"
Across the room, Carlisle coughs, his tablet crashing to the floor. Both female cyborgs look up, but he waves them off, standing as his face flushes and rushing out of the room, muttering something about checking up on the status of the other cyborgs.
Kate rolls her eyes at Carlisle's retreating form. "Sex? It's astronomical fun. There's nothing else like it between the five planets. It's better than charging," she says with a smile, before pausing with a critical look at Bela. She appears to be concerned. Almost. "But…maybe I'm not the best person to ask."
Kate gestures a hand to her body, blue eyes mirthful. "I'm programmed to love sex. I'm supposed to find it fun and interesting. I want to have sex all the time. That's my purpose. But it's not your purpose."
Bela deflates, sitting back a bit. "Oh."
Kate sighs, bumping her foot against Bela's. "You know, I once heard humans talking about sex," she says conversationally. "I don't think they cared that I was still in the room or that they had just finished with me…But they said that sex is more fun when emotions are involved. That's why Carlisle implanted the empathy chip for me. I couldn't feel the right emotions before. Since then, the emotionally charged sex has been more fun, but I don't think it's really what the humans meant. I think maybe they meant that sex was more fun when the emotions involved are between the people having sex."
"Like being in love."
"You're a romantic."
"I believe we can love, Kate. I believe cyborgs are capable of emotions, just like humans. Our mechanical additions make us special. They don't make us robots incapable of feeling."
Kate smiles, tilting her head to the side. "Exactly. I may not ever agree with you, Bela, and I may not ever have sex when I am in love with someone. I don't think that's what I was designed for. But you? Bela, you can feel and understand and experience that connection. And you will someday."
Bela suppresses a pleased smile, biting her lip. "I think you feel more emotions than you let on."
Kate shrugs. "Maybe. Or maybe my empathy chip is glitching again."
Bela doesn't agree, but she lets the subject drop – Kate did answer her question and even helped Bela. And they were probably both too tired to really talk about anything anymore.
Sometime between that thought and the stretching silence, Bela falls asleep, happily plugged into her charger. And for the next several nights, this pattern continued – Bela's charging companions alternated, sometimes Jasper, sometimes Kate, and Peter one time. She was utterly exhausted at the end of each day, working eighteen hours with very few breaks for human functions, such as eating, her processors becoming alarmingly hot. She thought, sometimes, that she could smell smoke coming from her own body. And her mind – it was shot. Her short-term memory storage was exceedingly quick, with not one iota of information staying for more than a few minutes instead of several days. It was a new situation. And it wasn't good.
She knew that she was harming herself by working for too long. But what choice did she have? Carlisle had not offered any other direction aside from what duties she was performing currently with the security panels and there wasn't another cyborg that could replicate Bela's function, not even at her home Spacedock. She was unique. There would be no replacement.
Bela coped as best she was able – still, within five days of arriving at the Spacedock, she was falling asleep beside Jasper mid-meal, one of her graphic chips had began to glitch, and as soon as she plugged into her charger, she lost the fight against consciousness.
On the sixth day, she woke to a stern, unforgiving nudge. It was a familiar way to wake up. "Go away, Jasper."
Bela, most emphatically, did not want duty to call.
It was an exceedingly odd thought for a cyborg to have – so odd that it scared Bela into an alert state. All Bela had was duty. Losing her will to perform her assigned task was like…it was like – oh, yes, it was like the humans and suicide.
Bela didn't want to be suicidal!
She unplugs quickly, closing her charger case and inhaling deeply, assessing her primary functions. She could have used 1.89% more rest to be at the best of her functioning, but the charge and subsequent rest she had at the moment would suffice. Eating the morning meal would also be helpful, so she did so with relish, not stopping long enough to savor the sweetness of the warm cherry pastry or the bitterness of the high-caffeine coffee. She was rushing. And overcompensating.
It didn't matter, either way. Carlisle in particular seem pleased by her enthusiasm to work. "This is the spirit you should all aim to exhibit," he says as the cyborgs disperse for their shifts.
Jasper, who is walking beside her, rolls his eyes. "Stop making the work harder for the rest of us," he jibes.
Bela, energy already deflating, smiles weakly. "Oh, yeah. I'll try to be mediocre."
"That's all I ask."
The basement of the Spacedock is just as desolate as it was the first day, but Bela soldiers on past the darkness, relying on the infrared installation of her optic receptors to guide her to the security panels. It's as easy as breathing, if not significantly less gratifying, to plug into the panel, fingers spread wide, circuits exposed and linked. She quickly reviews information from the last several hours, sending out a single security memo in response to something she saw that could be a potential threat – and it isn't until the memo is sent that Bela realizes she'd forgotten what the memo had been about.
A threat of some sort.
She felt frazzled. Anxious. What if she just made a terrible mistake? What if she just made work harder for Jasper and Peter, sending them to check out a non-threatening threat? That was wasting resources! Cyborgs didn't waste! She had to recall the memo! She had to stop-
A low buzzing in her ear ends the panic attack before it can evolve and almost without Bela's consent, her eyes cut to the side, breath caught in her throat.
What was that?
It was odd, the little….creature.
Having grown up in space, Bela hadn't so much as felt the sun on her skin and she definitely hadn't seen a bug before. But that's exactly what was hovering mid-air, staring right at her almost inquisitively.
A little lightening bug.
With electric-fast glassy wings.
With neon yellow eyes, glowing bright in the relative darkness.
With tiny legs and a body with a metallic sheen.
And it was staring.
Moving slowly, Bela disengages one hand from the security panel, not daring to blink for fear of scaring the creature away. After her wires fold back into her fingertips, Bela raises her hand cautiously, offering the back of her hand to the bug.
It buzzes, the sound faintly echoed by a beep, and flies closer. Bela was sure she wouldn't have heard it unless she was cyborg.
Nearly cautiously, the creature's wings flutter, slowing as it lands on Bela's middle knuckle.
The wings flap once, and then the creature stops.
They stare at each other.
"Aren't you the most amazing thing?" she asks it, attention drawn entirely to the bug.
The yellow eyes glow brighter. The bug preens, settling more firmly on the back of Bela's hand.
So distracted by the bug, Bela misses the security panel beeping to alert her of someone entering the basement. As tired as she is, her core processors were automatically working, filtering by algorithms and codes, operating without Bela's assistance at all – so all of her attention was devoted to the bug perched on her hand, which was just fine for Bela.
It was nice to have entertainment.
It was nice to have entertainment when it meant that having entertainment wouldn't distract her from her job or from protecting herself.
But this bug was very distracting and Bela wasn't thinking about her job. She wasn't thinking about monitoring who entered the basement. She wasn't thinking about anything, really. Nothing but the cute bug that beeped happily when she stroked one of its wings.
She jumps when a masculine voice echoes through the basement, closer than it should have been – because Bela should have noticed, should have been more cognizant of the security panel.
But she was distracted and so tired and she does jump, eyes darting up as her mouth drops open, as if to scream or gasp, though no sound escapes her mouth because-
Because it was him.
He was just as vibrant as she imagined but more handsome than she remembered. Standing tall, shoulders hunched in casual posture, he smiles easily at Bela. His caramelized skin is smooth, contrasting with the luminescent markings naturally tattooed into his skin, the colors of the markings a revolution of color – bright jewel tones of color, morphing from yellow to green and blue to purple and red and orange, then back to yellow and every color in between. The unique Cypherian markings were mesmerizing enough had it not been for his eyes, which were a dizzying verdant, so brilliant that they glowed in the darkness, or his hair, which was a truly alarming shade of fiery red.
Bela didn't know the word for it. She didn't think a word existed to describe him.
"You found my ztahnite," he repeats, stepping closer. "I've been looking for this one everywhere."
"Ztahnite," he says conversationally with a shrug of his shoulder. His eyes glint in the minimal light of the security panel. "All Cypherians have ztahnites. Odd that mine would respond to you…"
Bela, for the first time in her entire life, a short total of fifteen years, feels her face flush. She didn't know how to respond or how to behave. It didn't help that she was feeling decidedly sluggish or that she was more than a bit stuck, still attached to the security panel by one hand.
"You can't be down here," she tells him. "You need to go. You're not supposed to be here. Why are you here?"
His expression is unexplainably tender as he looks at her. "I was just looking for one of my ztahnites. What do they call you?"
Bela blinks. "A cyborg," she replies stupidly, feeling off-balance.
He smiles again, moving to lean against the wall, bracing himself with his shoulder. "No, vehltling, your name."
Her face heats again. "Bela."
"Bela the Cyborg," he muses. "May I have my ztahnite?"
She glances down at the little bug on her hand, wiggling her fingers to dislodge the creature. It stands fast, refusing to move. Bela looks up at the Cypherian. "Can't you call it to you?"
He quirks a fiery brow, slouching away from the wall. "You know, I think you should keep it," he says as he walks away backwards. "It seems to like you."
Bela is, understandably, dumbfounded. She shakes her head, watching as the Cypherian walks away- "Wait!"
He pauses, bright eyes flowing faintly from a distance, the markings on his skin revolving to citrine. "Yes, Bela the Cyborg?"
"What's your name?"
He studies her for a long moment before turning, speaking over his shoulder as he walks through the sliding doors. "You can call me Eddy."
"Eddy," she repeats long after he's disappeared, eyes drawn to the little ztahnite still perched on her hand. "Eddy the Cypherian."
It isn't until her shift with the security panels is over and she is plugging into her charger after shoveling tasteless food into her mouth that Bela realizes that Eddy, for as close in age as he appeared to be to Bela, had to be someone important to be at the convention. She looks to the ztahnite on her shoulder, the one that nobody had noticed yet, the one with sleepy yellow eyes, as if the metallic creature could answer her silent demands of information. Closing her eyes, she searches through the long streams of codes in her database, using facial recognition of tentatively stored information to figure out who this Eddy was.
What did the humans use to say?
Curiosity killed the cat.
Bela isn't the least bit surprised – alarmed, yes, but not surprised – when Eddy shows up in the basement again mid-way through her shift. She was watching for him, feeling more rested today, though only marginally. But she was ready for this, for him, and she speaks before he even has the chance to. "You shouldn't be here."
Eddy sighs. "I guess you know who I am, then."
"The son of the Eldhan! In a basement! With a cyborg!"
He scowls, though his face is no less stunning for it. "Just because my father is the leader of the Cypherians does not mean that I have any-"
"It means that you shouldn't be here," she interrupts, turning back to the security panel. "It might not be safe. I don't have any weapon modifications to protect-"
"Wait," he says, leaning against the wall again, brows furrowed. "Wait, they just put you down here with no protection?"
"I'm a cyborg," she shrugs.
It's really all that needs to be said.
"Now I really can't leave," he tells her after a long moment.
Eddy smiles at her lazily, sinking down the wall until he is seated on the floor, lounging against the wall. "Someone has to protect you."
Bela snaps her mouth shut when the urge to argue springs up.
What's she supposed to say? Eddy is basically a prince of the Cypherian people. If he wanted to be in a dingy basement all day, there was nothing Bela could do to stop him.
The only thing she could do was her job, and that's exactly what she did, paying complete attention to the security panel to make up for her lax attention the day before. She does not speak to Eddy, half-hoping that he will grow bored and leave and she can forget about him and all of his distracting qualities because she was cyborg and she had a job to do that did not include him!
The silence lasts for half an hour.
"How's my ztahnite?"
"Fine," she says, refusing to look down at Eddy though she can feel his verdant-bright eyes looking up at her. She bites her lip as the silence stretches on, and then sighs. She'd never been good at the silent treatment, anyway. "What is it, the ztahnite?"
"Part of me," Eddy answers. "All Cypherians have them. They're like tiny messengers, extensions of the mind."
"It looks mechanical," she observes. "The wings are made of something like glass."
Eddy hums. "I would expect as much. Cypherians aren't organic beings like humans. Nothing that comes from us could ever be made of flesh and blood."
Bela's head snaps to the side, eyes impossibly wide as she looks at Eddy and his nonchalant expression. This was-What he just revealed-
Eddy laughs loudly. "Did your circuits overload?"
She shakes her head. "No. I'm fine. It's just- What do you mean Cypherians aren't organic?"
"We're augmented," he says. "We were augmented, in our beginning. Our eldest were something like the androids your people are now creating, but our technology was much different…more complex. Lifelike. Since our ancestors were dying and the planet was entering an ice age, the need for our species to survive was vital."
Bela allows her processors to take the brunt of the work, her attention drawn entirely to Eddy and his revelations. What he was talking about was unheard of by human imagination – living mechanics. "They were able to blend the mechanics with living organisms seamlessly."
"Yes," Eddy smiles. "We augmented Cypherians were able to live on and survive on the ice planet, but we had to leave when the weather began to warm. It was too hot for our bodies to withstand."
That explained why the entire Spacedock was so cold, not that it bothered Bela much. But… "What do you want with Earth, then? As far as I know, the greenhouse atmosphere is not cool enough for your tastes."
"You ask the one question most humans refuse to acknowledge," he sighs. "We don't want the planet. You're right – the climate is not to our tastes. But the north and south poles are ideal for our vegetation and Earth is a nurturing planet. We have no interest to claiming lands inhabited by the Earthlings."
In many ways, it was a relief to hear this – to know that the Cypherians had no ill intent. Bela felt validated. Eddy, for all of his apparent rebellion in spending time with a cyborg while he should be helping the Eldhan seal treaties, was a good man. That was nice.
The ztahnite beeps once, wings buzzing as the little bug flies off her shoulder, circling her head. Bela's attention, which had been gradually drawn back to her duties, snaps to the creature. "It keeps doing this," she says with a sigh. "Beeping at me. Why?"
Eddy stands, holding his palm out; the ztahnite flies eagerly onto his palm and….disintegrates, melting into Eddy's skin as if it had never existed. His expression is thoughtful, verdant eyes bright. "Ah," he murmurs after a moment. "It's bonded with you, vehltling. Interesting."
"Bonded? And where did it go?"
Eddy grins. "Don't worry. It'll be back – it just needed to recharge," he assures her. "And yes, bonded. My ztahnite is now locked onto your physiological needs. It's remarkable, actually. Ztahnites very rarely do this for people who are not their master."
"I'm astronomically flattered."
"You should be," Eddy says, cupping his palms together absently, a faint yellow glow forming between his clasped fingers. After a moment, he separates his palms and the ztahnite flies out, buzzing and beeping happily in Bela's direction, landing on the tip of her ear. "The data reading from the ztahnite indicates that you're hungry and tired."
Bela flushes, but doesn't deny it – she is hungry and tired and her day wasn't even half over yet. The convention wasn't even half over. She wasn't sure she would make it at this rate; earlier that morning, she was pretty sure one of her neural network pathways had fissured because her backup drive was having minor malfunctions. It was simply too much work.
The expression on Eddy's face is pensive. "I'll be right back."
"Don't go anywhere!" he calls back, rushing out of the basement.
"That was weird," Bela tells the ztahnite.
The ztahnite beeps once, as if in agreement.
When Eddy returns, he is carrying a white produce sack filled with peculiar fruit that he promises will enhance her energy levels as well as make minor repairs on the electrical fluctuations that were causing the drain on her endurance – she only had to eat the fruit three times a day. Bela was dubious until tasting the fruit – the taste was sweetly tart, the texture similar to that of an orange, the color as dark as a plum, but the skin as soft as a peach – and receiving an almost instantaneous energy boost.
Bela promises to eat the fruit three times a day. What could it hurt her?
Eddy appears positively relieved for reasons unknown to Bela. The next time he sees her, he doesn't greet Bela until checking the sack of fruit to make sure she ate the right amount of fruit. He does this each time he sees her and then spends the rest of his visits talking to Bela about everything under the Milky Way – favorite colors, political views, musical taste, literature knowledge, philosophy, memories of childhood.
The remainder of the convention, for Bela, took on a new pattern of waking up, eating the breakfast provided by Carlisle, going down to the basement and eating Eddy's fruit, plugging into the security panel while she waited for Eddy to arrive, talking to Eddy in a way she hadn't talked to anyone in her life, unplugging from her job, eating her last meal of the day, and falling asleep while plugging into her charger. The fruit, as it turned out, was immensely helpful in maintaining her energy levels; Bela didn't even have any more malfunctions after eating the fruit for two days.
It isn't until Kate speaks to her the morning before the convention was over that Bela realizes she had begun to feel something more than friendship for Eddy.
"You look happy," Kate says with a smile, unplugging from her charger with a smile. "I'm glad."
The thing was, Bela was happy.
She didn't think she'd ever actually been happy before.
And Eddy was the cause.
She loved him – the human part of her realized and embraced this as fact. Her mechanics had no reason to argue.
She loved Eddy the Cypherian. Eddy the son of the Eldhan.
She wondered if Eddy the Cypherian loved Bela the Cyborg.
That evening, her mood is understandably melancholy as she greets Eddy. It dawned on her, when he didn't show up after noon like he usually did, that Eddy would be leaving the next day and she would never see his verdant eyes again. She actually cries when she sees him, one tear slipping down her face, which he gently wipes away with his thumb, expression comprehending her emotions without her needing to say anything.
"I know," he says right before he kisses her, lips gentle and coaxing.
Bela surges in action, unplugging from the security panel and hardly waiting for her fingertips to seal wires in before her arms are wrapped around Eddy's neck, clinging to him with all the strength in her body. Eddy returns the embrace, slanting his mouth over hers more firmly, breath cool against her skin when he breaks off, mouthing down her neck, teeth sinking lightly into flesh.
Their embrace evolves, hands sliding through hair and slipping on skin, his palms cupping her rounded breasts, her back against the wall beside the security panel. Eddy crouches, gathering Bela's legs around his waist and bracing her weight against the wall. She gasps into the darkness of the basement when his slender fingers work against the crease of her metallic tights, easily locating the nub that sent fire through her veins. Bela's fingers tighten on the back of his neck as her hips writhe beneath Eddy's hand, his lips against her ear as he murmurs sweetly to her.
Eddy's hand moves, fingers slithering between her tights and skin, skimming down the slick slit of her feminine flesh, his hips grinding against her inner thigh to seek his own friction and-
The ztahnite buzzes.
It beeps repeatedly. Insistently.
Eddy stops, pulling his mouth from her neck, head tilted in the direction of the ztahnite.
His eyes widen. "What?"
Bela is immediately at attention. "What? What is it saying?"
Eddy shifts, helping Bela unlock her legs from around his waist, letting go once her feet hit the floor. "Bela, something is wrong."
She is torn – ashamed that she let herself be distracted, but elated that she experienced something so visceral with Eddy. The timing was horrible.
Bela plugs back into the security panel, ignoring the quaking of her lower half in favor for the rather urgent footage that greeted her-
"Radicals," Eddy grits out. "Disguised as guards."
"People need to be evacuated," Bela says, watching the suspicious bag that the guards seemed to be avoiding – the bag that was decidedly bulky and setting off heat sensors. "Eddy, get everyone off this Spacedock!"
"What about you-"
Bela whips her head around, eyes wide with fear. "Don't worry about me. I'll be fine. But everyone else needs to be evacuated."
"Get them out Eddy!"
He studies her face for a long moment, then nods. "I will," he says, fixing his clothes, pressing a kiss onto her temple. "I love-"
"I know," she says, stealing his words, urging him away.
It hurt too much to see him.
It hurt because she lied to him.
Bela wouldn't be fine.
It was her fault that the explosive had been allowed to be engaged. She was too slow, too distracted – her mechanics weren't even compatible with the security panel and she had missed the radicals on the Spacedock.
There was only one option. She had a duty – she could no longer factor her life into this equation, not when so many other lives were caught in the balance.
Bela waits until Eddy has rushed from the basement before accessing her own database, connecting her own cybernetics to Jasper's, a method of communication built into all cyborgs, and sending him an urgent message. With Jasper's help, Eddy would be able to evacuate the entire Spacedock in approximately three minutes. That was enough time for Bela.
She works quickly, moving fast through the emptying sectors of the Spacedock, approaching the explosive in a way that was more than poetic – wasn't this similar to how her parents had died? She's running, determined as she pulls up the correct schematics from Carlisle's tablet, the ones on general atomic explosions that he kept for educational purposes for the cyborgs. Bela had tons of information stuffed into her RAM, waiting to be used in cases of emergency.
She hoped it would be enough.
The radicals, cowards that they were, have gone by the time Bela reaches the sector that housed the explosive. She thinks that perhaps they should have planned better because they placed the bag far too close to a release vault – Bela doesn't slow down for a second, running to the bag, scooping it up as carefully as possible and slamming the valve perched on the wall, flying into the abyss of space as soon as the vault releases. The vacuum jostles the bag and the beeping from inside escalates.
Bela, not having had the chance to take a deep breath, is breathless, moving as quickly away from the explosive as the beeping becomes one long, high-pitched note.
Bela isn't very far away when the bomb explodes.
The energy of the fire and shrapnel propels her backwards, away from the Spacedock, farther from oxygen and consciousness.
It was ironic.
Wasn't this how her life began?
Is this how it would…end?
It was so bright.
Bela blinks up at the white lights hanging overhead, a familiar tiny beep loud in her ear, louder than the unfamiliar sounds of machines hooked into her body. Her sensors are so quick. Something has changed. Her body in so much pain it was unbelievable – some of the pain was uniquely familiar and-
Pain meant life.
How on Earth did she live through that twice in fifteen years?
Bela looks to the side, wincing, noticing the little ztahnite settled on the edge of her pillow. Eddy was sitting beside the infirmary bed Bela was in, his expression relieved, his eyes soft.
"Eddy," she whispers, mind fuzzy as she begins to come to terms with surviving that awful explosion and the fact that Carlisle had apparently seen it fit to use her recovery time to complete his promised upgrade. There is a question on the tip of her tongue, one that she had been longing to ask, one that couldn't wait a moment more. "What is a vehltling?"
Eddy, for his part, doesn't seem surprised. He knew her well. "It's a mate for Cypherians. A destined love. I've known you were mine ever since my ztahnite chose you."
"Leni," Bela corrects. "Leni the Ztahnite."
"Leni then," Eddy concedes. He strokes the side of her face with a gentle smile. "Don't you ever do something reckless like that again. By the time the explosion went off, the Spacedock was evacuated. You didn't have to do that. Bela, I don't know what I would have done it you-"
Bela nods weakly, life pulsing in her veins. This was the easiest duty she had ever been assigned. "I promise."
She wouldn't ever break that promise. She would have no reason to, she was sure. Eddy didn't even look like he wanted her out of his sight for the next rest of their lives.
Eddy leans forward, kissing her softly, lingering for a moment longer than he had in the basement, as if he's not sure she's real.
Bela relaxes into the infirmary bed, so exhausted as her mind circles around one inarguable link of logic.
Some people died….
Bela the Cyborg didn't.
A/N: This story is complete. The idea of cyborgs and augmented species like the Cypherians, however, is not exhausted and may be revisited in the future.
As always, be brutally honest. I can take it.